P.W. Singer Lecture Transcript

Peter Warren Singer presents “NextTech: The Future of Technology, Security, and Threats”

Lecture Transcript

William Clements:    

Thank you, and welcome to Norwich University and the Todd Lecture sponsored by the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies as part of our keynote for the 2017 Residency Conference. For those that don’t know, me, I’m Bill Clements, dean of the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies. The Todd Lecture Series is named in honor of retired US Army Major General and President Emeritus W Russell Todd, class of 1950, and his late wife Carol in gratitude for their service, dedication to Norwich University and the larger Northfield community

I’d also like to recognize the Todd’s daughter and son-in-law, John and Ellen Drew and the Drew Foundation who have generously donated resources to Norwich University for the specific purpose of funding this lecture series. We are pleased to host Ms. Sarah Gallagher to this evening’s lecture, General and Mrs. Todd’s daughter. Ms. Gallagher, would you please stand so we can welcome you?

The Todd Lecture Series program will always be free and open to the greater Vermont community as well as the Norwich student body and is streamed live to students and alumni across the globe. So, welcome to all of those who are watching on the Internet tonight. This evening’s lecturer is Peter Warren Singer. Dr. Singer is a strategist at New America and an editor at Popular Science Magazine.

He was named by the Smithsonian as one of the nation’s 100 leading innovators, by Defense News as one of the 100 most influential people on defense issues, by Foreign Policy as their top 100 global thinkers list, and by Analytica Social Media data analysis, one of the 10 most influential voices in the world on cybersecurity and the 25th most influential in the field of robotics. His award-winning books include Corporate Warriors, The Rise of Privatized Military Industry, Children at War, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century and Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know.

His latest book is Ghost Fleet, a novel of the next world war, which many of our graduate students read before their arrival to campus in a coordinated “last read” initiative. Ghost Fleet is a techno-thriller cross with non-fiction research and co-authored with August Cole, whom we have also welcomed to campus this week. They will both be participating in a book signing following tonight’s lecture. Dr. Singer has an extensive CV, as you see in the program. I suggest that you take a look.

He has served as coordinator of President Obama’s 2008 campaign’s defense policy task force, in the office of the Secretary of Defense, and as the founding director of the Center for the 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution, where Singer was the youngest person named a senior fellow in its 100-year history. Without further ado, please welcome Peter Singer.

Peter Singer:  

Thank you for the very kind introduction, and also to the lecture series for making all of this possible. I also just wanted to add my congratulation to all the students and their families gathered here. This is a very special week I know for the organization, but also for you personally. So, a little bit of background more about myself and where I’m coming from on this work. I work at what’s known as a think tank. It’s a place called New America, if you’re not familiar with us. We are a non-governmental non-partisan organization that wrestles with where research technology and policy all come crashing together.

We work on topics that range from the future of the Internet to the future of early childhood education and relevance to your work. We’ve got two projects, they’re different but they’re related: one is on cyber security and the other is on the future of war, and each one of them reflects the networked nature of these spaces and they involve bringing together a diverse group of experts. So for example the future of war team has everything from historians to former general counsel at the Pentagon, to technologists, to recently retired military officers with backgrounds that range from Air Force acquisition officers to four members of Navy Seal Team Six.

And what we’re all trying to do is wrestle with the future. Now, the challenge and this applies both to our work but more broadly to those of us who look at the issues of security at large is that we’re not very good at it. We have a terrible track record at trying to predict the future, and my favorite example of this is– it’s very politic right now to beat up on the New York Times, so I’ll do that. But I’m going to use an older example of it. It came on October 9th, 1903 and on that date, the New York Times tried to predict the future and it said quote, “The flying machine which might really fly, might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians,” that’s what they used to call engineers, “in from one to ten million years from now.”

The exact date that the New York Times published, those two brothers there, the Wright brothers, began to assemble the first working flying machine in that bicycle shop there in Dayton, Ohio. Now, we could throw our hands up in the air and say gosh the future is unpredictable, we shouldn’t even try. It’s like driving in the dark with your headlights off. The reality, though, is that first you don’t have a choice, whether you’re working in education, in training to budgeting, to doctrine, to strategy, operational, planning you are a futurist. You have to wrestle with the future.

The second thing is that I would argue we don’t have a great track record at trying to predict specific events with any kind of great confidence, but we can identify the forces that are out there that might shape the potential future worlds that lie ahead of us. Now, the way I’d like to illustrate this, is imagine a teakettle on top of a stove. Now, with all of our advanced science today, we can send a robot to Mars that can Twitter back at us, but for us to predict the behavior of that water in that teakettle at the molecular level; we can’t do it. We just don’t know what each water molecule is going to do next.

But if we’re looking at that system we wouldn’t say gosh, it’s inherently unpredictable. We would ask ourselves very basic questions like for example, is the heat on? Knowing that if enough heat is applied to that teakettle, we don’t know exactly when or where that water molecule will turn to steam. Now that doesn’t mean that is the inevitable future, all sorts of other things can happen. Your little son can come along and knock the teakettle over. The point, though, is if you were looking at that system and trying to predict the future, you would identify heat whether the stove is on or off as a key trend, a key force to pay attention to.

As John Naismith once said, “Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction that they’re headed.” So if we’re trying to you know wrestle with the trends that are out there, in particular the ones that are going to shape your careers as you move into these various leadership roles as you leave here in the future.

I think there is, in particular, three related to my work that will be important and important in terms of not just what’s going to happen tomorrow, in the next year, but over that generational-long issue. And they break into technology itself, but also a new kind of place and a new kind of race. And what’s important and different is that in each one of these areas, the United States has been in the leadership role but maybe won’t be moving forward.

Now, the first one of these is technology but it’s a very special kind of technology and it goes by lots of different buzzwords. So it used to be in the Rumsfeld-era Pentagon, “revolutionary technology.” Now it’s known as “disruptive technology.” If you’re outside the military, weirdly enough, you call it “a killer app.” What are we talking about here?

We’re talking about technology that is not an evolutionary improvement–you know, the difference between iPhone 6 and iPhone 7–but a leap ahead. The difference between a regular phone and a smartphone. And what defines this is not just the idea that it gives you something that was a capability, that was science fiction a generation earlier, but how it provokes a whole new set of questions that were science fiction a generation earlier.

That is, it doesn’t solve all your problems and there are questions about what’s possible that you didn’t imagine was possible before. But maybe more important, there are questions about what is proper that you weren’t wrestling with the generation earlier. And, that “what is proper” might be anything from what is the proper way to organize my business, or my military unit or who’s the proper person to recruit or train, to maybe it’s a question of what is proper when it comes to new legal or ethical questions that we weren’t wrestling with the generation earlier.

So what are some of these kind of technologies that were seen out there? A couple years back I was part of a project that was sponsored by the Pentagon known as “Next Tech,” and essentially what we did is that, much like the research that you’ve been doing, to answer this we went around and we conducted a study. And what we did is, we interviewed about 60 subject matter experts with very diverse backgrounds. So everything from people working in military organizations like DARPA; the entity that invented the Internet itself; or the Office of Naval Research was another place; to people outside of the military working in university labs, in academia; to people working in business at leading technology companies, like Google and Facebook. People on the investment side, venture capitalists. Those that are putting their money and making the future come true. And we asked all of these very different people the same basic question, “What do you think today is equivalent to the computer in 1980?” So it’s not science fiction, it exists but it is poised to change the world the way the computer did.  And their answers, this is a word cloud but don’t focus on the word cloud, is they’re basically broken down into five what you might imagine as technology bucket areas/categories of technology.

As I’m going through them, go back and think about that parallel of the computer both in terms of how it jumped back and forth and changing everything from war, to your family life, to business. But also think about all the decisions you either made or wish we had made relative to computers that we wish we could go back on. Imagine those applied to these technology areas moving forward.

Now the first one of these technology areas is hardware– specifically robotics. We’ve gone through an amazing change, so we’re a little bit past our 15-year anniversary of our forces going in Afghanistan, and the force that went in had a handful of unmanned aerial systems. If you’re like our Air Force people here, we call them “remotely piloted aircraft.” If you’re like the rest of them, we would call it “drones.” We had a handful, none of them armed. The ground force had zero unmanned ground systems, ground robotics, equally, none of them armed. Today in the US military we have over 10,000 drones and many of them are, of course, armed, to another 12,000 on the ground. We’re not the only players. At New America we’ve identified 86 different countries’ militaries that have robotics in them today. It’s not just militaries, it’s also non-state actors that range from the Dallas Police Department this last summer used a jury-rigged armed ground robot to kill a sniper, to right now in the Battle of Mosul ISIS has conducted over 200 drone missions, a third of them armed.

Now sometimes people will go, “Oh, well the ISIS ones you know they’re not all that great. They’re ones they made themselves, and are kind of junky.” They’re science fiction compared to a generation earlier. We dreamed of having that kind of capability. But of course the shift is not just in terms of the numbers, it’s how we think about and experience maybe the most important thing that goes on war itself. You just watched an act of war, and you just experience the same way that the person who pulled the trigger did. Sitting thousands of miles away. Remote from danger in a site. There’s something going on here when we think about the overall history, the story of war, and how we experience it.

But that’s the history, what’s moving forward? With robotics we’re seeing all sorts of different changes in everything from their designs, particularly as we move away from thinking about them as pure replacements for manned machines and even the way we talk about them. So “unmanned systems,” “driverless cars,” a lot like how we used to call them “horseless carriages.” Defining something by what it’s not, rather than what it is, “automobile robot,” as we move away from being locked in that kind of mindset, it shifts everything from the design so we stop think about drones as being you know planes with a cockpit painted over.

It allows us to think about fundamentally different sizes. Too, we can draw inspiration from vastly different designers, maybe the best designer of all nature. Now, this little system here you can see it, it’s flying in San Francisco. Recently someone lost one of these in Somalia. I can’t imagine why someone would want to fly a drone that looks like a little bird in Somalia. Maybe some of the Security Studies people can help us figure out the why on that. It’s not just though the design, maybe more important is the shift in their intelligence and their autonomy.

You’re about to watch a historic moment where a robotic system is about to take on the role that a Navy pilot will tell you is the toughest pilot task of all. In fact, they can’t stop talking about how it’s such a tough task–take off and land from an aircraft carrier. As you can see, it does it perfectly and it can do it perfectly again and again and again. And it’s not just the idea that it can do it perfectly, it’s also the fact that it can then transfer that knowledge on how to do it perfectly instantaneously to another like system. Compare that to how not everyone can be a pilot, not everyone can be a top gun pilot, not every top gun pilot can be perfect, and they can’t then train someone else to be perfect like them.

They can pass on their knowledge but it takes literally months. Now, the shift when it comes to robotics and their intelligence is moving in two fundamentally different directions, and one is in terms of kind of large scale systems that are very clear replacements. So, for example in the Ghost Fleet project that August and I worked on, we identified 21 different examples of autonomous robotics projects that the Pentagon is working on right now. This right here is the first fully robotic ship. It’s not science fiction, we may have written a novel, but I recently was on board this ship, it’s in San Diego. It’s testing there right now.

The idea of a robotic ship has introduced very interesting issues. Relevant to summer time, it doesn’t have air conditioning on it because why would you have air conditioning on this ship. But then that’s made life really tough for the humans that have to repair the ship inside it in the heat of summer, or when it was previously was based in the Gulf of Mexico. But the direction is one of large-scale physical systems, and there’s a little bit parallels nature where if you think about in nature for some species intelligence is in a single system. And that system, that person for example, that animal can do the task on their own.

So, a good commercial illustration of this was in this commercial that showed during the NFL playoffs where Budweiser was excited to show this 18-wheeler leaving a Budweiser bottling plant carrying thousands of cans of beer, and hold it gosh, the truck driver just got up. So a very clear direct obvious replacement, large scale physical system. It’s sort of odd that Budweiser was excited about this because when you pull back and think about the potential disruptive effects of this on the American economy, you see this layout of the most popular job by state and how Budweiser just said isn’t it cool that a lot of these jobs are about to be automated?

Not what you want to think about when you’re watching the NFL playoffs if you’re a truck driver, but the point is that’s one direction of robotics and autonomy. The other is, just like in nature, we have other species like insects or ants where each little individual is not all that smart, but together they can do incredibly complex tasks. They disaggregate, they network it. So we see the same version going on with robotics. So take that simple example of delivering a drink, we had an 18-wheeler delivering tens of thousands of cans of beer to 711 has already used a small drone to deliver a single Slurpee drink to someone’s house.

First, that represents an entire new kind of business model that you wouldn’t have done before. Second, it shows how science fiction is coming true again, in this case Wall-E, how lazy we are. The point though is that it’s not just a story of hardware, it leads to the second technology bucket, software. Where we see advancement but also how they’re linked together, and maybe one of the bigger shifts here to be aware of is the emergence of the Internet of Things. So right now there are approximately seven billion of these devices in the world that we use to communicate back and forth.

Now these devices mostly computers, but moving forward we are going to see, as you note from this chart, about 50 billion things linked up, but they’re going to be different. They’re going to be everything from smart cars, robotics, thermostats, refrigerators, you name it. Now, it’s not just the raw number, but it’s also a shift in terms of what they carry. So each of these things packs multiple sensors that is a part of the system that’s collecting information about the world around it. So some of them are pretty obvious sensors like your cell phone’s camera.

My phone has about 25 sensors on it. Obvious ones like the camera, but it also has things operating in the background. Like for example Geo location, and the point is that when you crunch the numbers, those 50 billion things actually yield about a trillion sensors gathering data about the world around us. What is that yield? Big data, more data than we’ve ever had before in human history, but importantly different forms of data being brought together that allow us to draw entire new insights about the world around us, surprising insights.

My favorite illustration of this is a study for the criminal justice people in the room– they found that judges sentenced people to jail for about 2% longer if the sports team in their hometown lost the night before. Now, you know that seems very marginal, 2% that’s statistically insignificant, but if you’re going to jail for 2% longer because the Cleveland Cavs lost the night before, that doesn’t seem fair. But the point is that human researchers if they’re looking at judges sentencing that’s not where they would automatically look. But machines’ algorithms were able to bring these insights together in new different ways.

The point is that what we see here is also a story of artificial intelligence. We’ve grown numb to the spread of AI around us. AI is why, for example, your kids can’t spell—autocomplete, right? But more important AI is becoming strong and taking on top human tasks. Not just at Jeopardy, but in fields like medicine for example. They perform better at identifying cancer than top human oncologists, to a lot of people here working in cybersecurity. At the Def Con Convention recently “Mayhem,” an AI, had a bug hunting task that takes humans weeks; it did it in a matter of minutes.

Which then raises the interesting question: will we see parts of the cybersecurity field go through what factory workers and those truck drivers are going through? Another bucket area, waveware energy. New forms of energy coming on the line, old forms being distributed in new ways. But it also redefines technology itself. So a good illustration of this would be that drone there at the bottom. That one is powered, not by regular aviation gas but by hydrogen. And then there’s another one that uses solar.

And the point is that these systems and they’re being worked on both by DARPA and by Facebook. For the Facebook system, they didn’t even bother to design landing gear for it because it’s going to stay up in the air not for hours, not for days, not for weeks, seven to ten months. Solely by changing the energy source, we just redefined the plane into something almost like a satellite. But maybe the more important for war story of energy is illustrated by this guy. In all of human history, weapons used kinetic force–a fist, a spear, a bullet–and the idea of using energy as a weapon was science fiction.

So, the first time we meet Han Solo you know he tells Luke Skywalker there’s nothing better than having that blaster by your side. Now, I’m going to spoiler alert. I’ve given you enough warning: In the (recent Star Wars) movies it’s 30 years later and two things are notable. The first is Han Solo is still packing that exact same blaster that he shot first with 30 years earlier. But the second– there’s a couple of nerds in the room who got the joke.

The second thing is we’re 30 years forward in the real world and that the science fiction of Star Wars is now real. We advanced faster technologically than the world of Star Wars did, and this is not just in terms of tests. For example this is showing off a high energy laser hitting a rocket at distance. It’s also in terms of deployment this USS Ponce, a warship in the Persian Gulf, equipped with directed energy to defend the ship against one of the prior new areas, small drones.

New weapons, like rail guns which we explored in Ghost Fleet, don’t use the chemistry of gunpowder, but use electromagnetic magnetism to sling a shell ten times further than what a cannon could do before. That not only revolutionizes the idea of the cannon, now it has for example the range of a missile, but it’s also causing some very deep questions for military services themselves. So, for example the Marine Corps and the Army have a history of a certain role–coastal defense–that they don’t do now.

They have a long history at it, they don’t do it now but now there is a weapon that is perfectly suited for that and also well attuned to the strategic demands in the Pacific in terms of defending disputed islands. And so they have to go ask themselves, do we use this new technology to go back to our heritage that we’re not as much of a fan of? Another key technology bucket the tool itself. There was a technology never imagined in the world of Star Wars.

It wasn’t in the original Star Trek. It wasn’t until the best Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, that we get the idea of a replicator, or what we would call 3D Printer. Direct digital manufacturing using a computer design a bit to create a thing, an atom. Now there’s all sorts of examples of how this is going to be disruptive across the economy and security itself. It’s everything from companies like Saab–as you see I was recently out with them. They plan to make money not just by selling you the system, be it the plane, or the car or whatever, but there’s more money in the literal decades of spare parts that they’ll sell you.

What happens as these spare parts are now available to be made by someone else, including the client? That bus there is Ollio. Ollio is a 3D-printed autonomous electric shuttle bus made by Local Motors, an Arizona-based automaker that crowd sources vehicle design. Every clause in that sentence is disruptive to the economy of cars: 3D Printed, autonomous, electric, Arizona-based, crowd-source design.  Again this is not science fiction. Ollio is actually going to be operating in Washington, D.C. going back and forth at the Nationals baseball stadium.

Also there is the drone at the bottom. It has about, to give you a sense of its scale, a two-meter wingspan, goes about 100 miles per hour, and is almost completely silent. Its origin is that a group of university students and Great Britain wanted to build a drone that was better than what the British military had. They designed it in a CAD program. For the World War Two history buffs in the room you’ll notice it a Spitfire-style wings. They designed it a CAD program, they print it with 3D Printers, and they fly it in the course of a week. Compare their concept design to manufacture cycle to, I don’t know, the F35.

The point though is not just their speed, not just who did it, but where they did it. And inspired by this, the British military said, “This is a really some interesting gear, we’d like it. We’d like to manufacture it.” So they built their version here. This is its maiden flight from the factory, it was built on a warship and then flew off the warship. So the warship became an arsenal in the redefinition of the term. Arsenals used to be where militaries made their weapons. Then New Englander Samuel Colt comes along and comes up with the idea of civilian mass manufacture. And then arsenals become where militaries store weapons.

Now we have the possibility of going back to that history, or a different example will be illustrated by this gentleman. He’s holding the tool that he made. Is it kind of a weird angle because he’s floating in space? The point is if you can make it on a warship, if you can make it in space, you can make pretty much make it anywhere. Another key shift, wetware, human performance modification. Using technology to shift what we can do. Or the science fiction version of this would be Iron Man, meets Captain America, meets the Russian Olympic Athlete Program. Now it’s playing out in all sorts of different ways. For example, what’s going on in genomics is moving faster than the breakthroughs that excite us in IT, hacking the human body with chemistry.

Affecting everything from how long you need to sleep, your endurance levels, to your concentration levels, to where hardware, software and wet-ware come crashing together. Brain machine interfaces. Like Brain Gate here, where this gentleman, he’s not able to move his arms or legs. This is a DARPA’s funded project, but he’s been hooked up to a computer that converts the thoughts in his brain, which are basically electric signals, into software code zeros and ones, and that allows him via thought to move around a cursor on a computer screen. Which allows them via thought to do everything from navigate the Internet, to type email on a virtual keyboard.

The point, though, is this is not just for people as a medical treatment. And it’s not just in the idea of being a jack into your brain. It’s moving into everything from that you wear a skull cap that’s used in video gaming, to this gentleman would be an illustration. He is flying a drone via thought. For the science fiction fans, this is Clint Eastwood’s movie Firefox come to life. And also again changes the way you think about our relationship with robotics–if you can thought control of them. This idea of modification, human performance modification, comes in lots of different forms.

It’s everything from replacing something that’s been lost: Like the service woman who lost her arm in Iraq to an IED. Getting not just a kind of a replacement but matching it. So, compare her arm to this gentleman you can see has pretty much the dexterity of a human hand here, but technology takes you into new different directions. So, it’s not just that he’s controlling it via thought, but he doesn’t have to be in that room because of one of the other things we heard about– the Internet, right? Other times it may be surpassing performance in very clear obvious direct ways. So for example, every time I meet a Marine, they try and crush your hand in a handshake? They wouldn’t try it with this gentleman, because very you know obviously clear cut stronger, but again technology might cause advancement in wildly different ways. Several years back I devised a video game series called Metal Gear Solid, and it’s set in like the 2040s. Now, last year in the real world, a gentlemen approached the video game company and said, “I’d like to build a version of the technology that’s in the game.” They gave him some startup funding to do it, they saw it as kind of a cool marketing thing. This is what he made. It is a robotic arm but he added certain modifications that weren’t in the game.

It packs a drone in the shoulder and a smartphone in the wrist. This is not 2040, this is technically history. This is 2016. Now this should all seem kind of exciting, but simultaneously scary. But for the people who specialize in cybersecurity here, they’re going it’s scary for a very different reason because it opens up new vulnerabilities. We’ve already seen hacking of cars. These are medical devices that have been hacked. It’s not a hacker convention unless someone’s hacking a drone at it right now.

To that Internet of Things I talked about that’s so exciting–70% of the things that have been woven into it so far, 70% have known vulnerabilities in them. And of course in cybersecurity, it’s not just the known stuff that gets you. The point is, this leads to the second big Meta trend. We have a shift in the overall kind of story of place. Not just what we use, but where we contend, where we fight and again pull back in history. This is, to make that science fiction parallel, this is the entire Internet when we first met Han Solo. When the first Star Wars came out. This is it, this is why Princes Leia just can’t email you the plans of the Death Star. No one’s thinking about that.

This is the Internet today visualized, and of course this doesn’t do justice to the complexity of this space and how we all use it independently.  But along with that growth is that we’ve seen a growth in danger, and part of that story is the emergence of new threat actors, or rather the evolution of new threat actors. The first threats were people like this kid, literally the 16-year-old in his parents’ basement who’s using that very powerful device to crack into the FBI and the CIA.

Now you’ll notice besides that powerful computer for whatever reason he has one of those old printers with the perforated paper on the side. I don’t know what he’s using it for, but it’s sort of funny to think that’s how hackers used to operate. But the point is we’ve seen it go from being kids in their parents’ basement, people looking for attention, to highly organized threat actors that range from transnational criminal networks, to the more than 100 nations that have created some kind of cyber military command.

And the point is that it’s very complex, it’s very scary, but the future of danger in this domain, in this locale, is arguably quite simple. It’s all about information and what you can do with it. The problem is that you can do very powerful things with it. Again on the civilian and the military side. Now, the first thing that you can do with information, you can collect it. One of the other shifts in the story of the Internet is not just the things, but also the emergence of social media.

Where we are all not just collectors of information now, we are all individual distributors of information. Via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the result of that is that every single conflict actor be it ISIS, be it Chicago gangs, be at the Russian military, are telling their story online right now or other people are watching them and telling their story.

And then in turn every single act of violence is being talked about in real time, with the result is that we are entering an era where arguably there are no more secrets. The illustration of this, that I think will be a tune for a number of the people in this room with a special operations background, would be the Bin Laden raid. One of the most secretive military operations of our lifetime that was live tweeted by a Pakistani IT engineer who just happened to live in Abbottabad. To ongoing operations right now in Syria where we can all watch Facebook feeds of them.

This, though, is causing a reaction.  So there may be no more secrets–the truth is out there–but there’s a counter-disinformation influence operations. Bury the truth underneath a sea of lies. And the specialists in this is Russia, who literally invented information warfare, and we’ve seen this in everything from their operations in Ukraine, to their operations and elections everywhere from Poland, UK, Germany, France and the United States. The second thing you can do with information: stealing. Many of the people in this room probably got this letter because someone China broke into the Office of Personnel Management and stole classified background information.

It’s just like what goes on in regular crime. Someone steals a credit card, the difference though is that now you can do it on scale. So, rather than James Bond stealing one file, they stole 22 million files. Don’t steal one credit card, you can steal tens of millions of credit cards. It’s that scale now that the space allows, but we’re also seeing interesting new combinations. For example, the cross of commercial and state-linked theft and espionage may be best illustrated by these two points here. On the top is the F35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons project in all of human history.

We will spend more than a trillion–that’s with a “T” –dollars than, for example, we spent on the Manhattan Project, and the reason is it’s to give us a generation ahead advantage on the battlefield. On the bottom, well that looks like the F35, just for some reason they painted it blue and they put red stars on it. That’s because it’s the J31, China’s new stealth fighter. Now, it either looks like the F35 out of sheer coincidence, or it’s because, as we documented Ghost Fleet, the design process was penetrated on three separate occasions.

It’s very hard to win an arms race if you’re paying the research and development for the other side. Another thing you could do with information–block information. This is an illustration of what Russia did to Ukraine in the lead up to their physical conflict. On the cyber side, they threw up the equivalent of a blockade. Sort of blocking communication between everything from Ukrainian business websites, to government websites, to individual military units in the field. It had a paralyzing effect on Ukraine as a nation. In essence Ukraine loses the cyber side of the conflict, the cyber war before the real war ever begins.

And the commercial version of this would be like the DDoS campaigns that we’ve seen. For example, in the Mirai episode a couple months ago that locked down some the world’s most popular websites. Everything from Travelocity to Amazon, you name it. Basically blocking the flow of information. The final thing you can do with information–haven’t seen a lot of it but this is the real one to pay attention to–change it. It’s illustrated best by this guy: Stuxnet. Someone, the United States and Israel, built a cyber weapon that went after Iranian nuclear research. We didn’t need to steal it, we know how to build atomic bombs. Instead what it did is it got inside and change the settings of their physical equipment. Things like the pressure settings that then caused physical damage.

It sabotaged their machinery. Now it’s important in a number of different ways. First in history, it’s the very first digital weapon. It’s like every other weapon in history, it physically damages the target. But it’s unlike every other weapon in history, because it was just a bunch of zeros and ones. You couldn’t touch it. You could be in multiple places at once, that’s how we know about it. It’s sabotaged Iranian nuclear research, it also popped up in 25,000 other computers around the world. But the other part of it which maybe should worry us moving forward, is digital weaponry brings its own blueprint with it.

And Stuxnet which went after industrial control systems–like SCADA industrial control systems that are used in everything from traffic lights to US Navy engine room. So we’ve opened up a kind of new realm of cyber conflict with far greater consequences. The result is that it’s changing our relationship with information itself.

So this is a picture from the Battle of Jutland, a little over 100 years ago in World War One. And you can see what that young British Navy officer sees. They see a literal fog of war, or rather smoke of war, and it’s both from ships burning but also ships deliberately laying down smoke. The result is, it’s hard for them not just to figure out where the enemy is, but where they are, where their allies are. Now, compare that to our relationship with information over the last generation. We complain about TMI–Too Much Information–or when I was out at military bases in the Middle East, the way they would always describe it, is they’ll say, “It’s like sipping from a fire hose.”

My inbox is flooded with all of this data, all this information coming at me, and my problem is figuring out what’s important keeping pace with it. What if moving forward our relationship with information is not too much of it, but that firehose, that spigot, either being turned off or the water being poisoned. Where we’re like that officer 100 years ago struggling to figure out where are we, where are my friends, where are my foes, who do I trust? It’s a very different thing not just for a machinery, but for our mentality.

And we also have bigger fundamental questions to figure out. For example, how do we organize, how do we train, how do we equip and I think that’s again some of the things that you’re wrestling with in this space. There’s one final big Meta trend that I want introduced to this, which is the consequence. Why we care about this more. There is a shift not just in the technology and where it’s playing out, but there’s a new kind of race. For example, when we think about China, I told the story of, “Oh they’re stealing some of our designs.” But they’re also doing exciting work.

This is the world’s fastest supercomputer in China made only with Chinese parts: two robots. This is an armed robot, showing off at a trade show. Hypersonic vehicles that go faster than many of our air defenses. The point is that we have a shift not just in the story of technology, but in geopolitics itself, or maybe it’s a little bit of a throwback because the context is in Europe, we are seeing the highest points of alert since the height of the Cold War in the mid-1980s. Because of this guy, and the land grabs in places like the Ukraine.

In the Pacific, we’re engaged in an arms race. Where a China that’s newly confident, assertive and capable, for example, is building more warships, more warplanes than other nation over the last several years and plans to do so moving forward. In turn, the United States military has a new strategy to offset it. The point in all of this, is that a lot of people believe that we’re seeing a kind of new version of the Cold War. But we may also see expressions in different ways.

New threats, new zones. A lot of people frame this as hybrid warfare and it works in two different ways. The first is using state assets to appear as non-state actors. So, for example these are not Russian Special Forces, these are just “little green men” that happened to show up in Ukraine and wanted to take photos with little girls. The same phenomena in cyberspace: it wasn’t Russian intelligence that attacked the Democratic National Committee. No, no, no, no, it was a Romanian hacker who for whatever reason couldn’t speak Romanian. The opposite we’re seeing in the Pacific which is taking nonmilitary assets and using them in traditional military ways.

The “little blue men,” for example a Coast Guard that outclasses most navies or the cyber version of this would be university-based cyber militia. But we also have to face up that there’s something that fortunately didn’t happen in the Cold War, which is the possibility that it might turn hot. As one Chinese military officer put it, “We must bear a third world war in mind when developing our military forces.” And this is a depiction from Chinese media of how they think the third world war might go, and as you can see it’s going really poorly for whoever operates Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

That’s what August and I wrestled with in the Ghost Fleet book. This idea of a melding between 20th-century-style politics and 21st-century-technologies and trends. The point is, to circle back, I’m not saying this will happen. I’m not saying it is inevitable. I’m just saying these are trends for us to be aware of. That the sort of things that were thinkable in the 20th century, that were unthinkable for the last generation, are thinkable once more and that has to change the way we look at the world.

The way we prepare ourselves and the responsibility which we take in particular to keep this story where it belongs which is in fiction. So, in closing you can see I didn’t come up here and give you a bunch of easy answers. Rather what we have going on is just an amazing array of trends and challenges and that’s why I think programs like yours are so important in bringing together both the technical skill set, but also the leadership skill sets because it’s that combination, I believe, is the only way that we’re going to be able to thrive in this world of ever-changing trends and challenges. Thank you.

William Clements:  

Thank you very much Peter. We have some time for questions. We have two microphones set up. I think we’ll dedicate the microphone on this side to our students who are here for their study and then for public and other questions will be my left. But I suppose to get us started while lines are queuing up, I’ll ask a general question that I’m fascinated by. The disinformation elements of the technology, and some of the things that we’ve been experiencing.

On one hand it’s difficult to think what do you do about that. How do we how do we counter that? I don’t know what your thoughts would be, maybe for some more tangible you know we’re living it. But how do we how live with it?

Peter Singer: 

Sure, so the story of disinformation influences campaigns. Take news, what we need to understand is in many ways, it mirrors the Internet itself. The producers of it are diverse, and have very diverse mentalities and incentives and reasons for doing it. So if you think of the phenomena of fake news, it involves everything from people with a very clear political agenda and that might be a foreign government political agenda, to a partisan domestic political agenda, to an ecosystem that aligns with it which is for profit actors.

So, as an example, there’s a group of essential Macedonian teenagers who run one of the biggest clusters of fake news. Things pushed out on Facebook and they’re making money off of ad clicks. They basically figured out that Americans are prone to believing the worst news about their political foes, so you know rather than selling diet ads, they basically generated a bunch of fake news and profited from it. They were, for example, behind the origin of “the pope endorsed Donald Trump.”

Which whether you are a Trump supporter or not, it’s definitive that the pope did not endorse him, and yet they got 36 million clicks on that. And there’s this great story: basically the night club in the town that they’re from every Thursday night, these geeks basically take it over like old school gangsters because that’s when the ad click money from Google comes in. And they literally spray each other with champagne. They’re basically making money off of our gullibility, but they’re aligned with Russian disinformation.

So, in turn, we need to understand our response has to kind of mirror this broader–it’s everything from us as individual consumers. If something seems too good to be true, it’s probably that to the platforms. And we’ve seen the technology companies go from saying, “I’m not responsible for what’s on my network.” to “Hold it. I better do a better job of policing it.” And one area when it comes to foreign influence operations, I believe we need to restart a program from the Cold War called the Active Measures Working Group.

Back in the Cold War, it was a team between State Department, CIA, information agencies, and basically what it did was they tried to find KGB information campaigns. False stories that the KGB was planting, and then counter them. So, back in the Cold War it was things like the Americans … they spread a story in Africa right before the 1984 Olympics that the Americans were inviting athletes to Los Angeles to try and infect them with AIDS.

And CIA identifies it; State Department can then counter it. We close that up at the end of the Cold War. We need to restart it and it’s not just the value of stopping these campaigns, it will also allow us to in essence identify the useful idiots. That is the Russian term, “the useful idiots,” in our own system that are taking Russian misinformation and spreading it as fact.

Those are groups that do a disservice to us. A straightforward one would be the cluster that’s built around and for wars. We’ve seen that is if you can identify where stories originate, a Russian propaganda source, and then track it as it moves into our ecosystem by identifying that in a more official manner, it will allow people to debunk these false stories.

Question #1:   

My name is Bill Walsh, I graduated from Norwich 40 years ago in 1977. At the time I didn’t have a beard. And starting in 1984 I worked for a management consulting firm. We used dialogue retrieval service and dialogue was basically not technically pre-internet. But we might only be able to search 12 different sources and it would cost us $300 an hour, which is $900 or $1,200 now.

We go to where we are now, I have a couple concerns. The collapse of the Internet, that would be one if that’s possible. And what your thoughts are on that?  And also all of our gadgetry, what is happening to our human communications face to face? And where is that going when everybody walking down the street is tied to their phones and you say hi to somebody and they go right back to their phones? Thank you.

Peter Singer:        

So you know great big questions in terms of the threat to the overall internet itself–there are a variety of threats that might do it. The underlying systems, for example, which power it, or certain parts of the hardware. But the great thing of the Internet is its structure itself; by being networked gives it resilience, allows it to recover, allows it to work around. That’s what makes it so very difficult to censor things on the Internet, wherever you throw up a block things move around it.

So to me I’m less worried about the overall threats to the Internet, versus what the threats that move within or on the Internet that are enhanced by it. And that might be, as we talked about, cyber threats, which with the emergence of the Internet of Things, move the story from stealing your secrets to causing physical change in the world. So the difference of your files being hacked versus your car being hacked. And we’ve already seen you know as I mentioned someone pumping the brakes remotely from a car. So we’ll see more and more physical consequence from things playing out. And again, why is that? Because of all the positive things that the Internet is running in our world–we’re not going to move away from it because of these threats.

The other is the ideology side. That’s where the question of fake news. Where we’ve seen certain poisoning of our political system. The Internet allows people to find each other online. And it might be people finding love, or it might be people who share an ideology of hate finding each other. And that’s why we’ve seen the story of a rise of ISIS and its ability to energize lone wolf actors thousands of miles away. So to me it’s not the threat to the Internet itself, it’s the threats borne upon the Internet.

Your second question–yeah that’s a generational shift. We had certain skill sets. Our ability to have conversations on the phone has fundamentally changed. Some people think nothing of picking up the phone and other people are completely allergic to it. And the same as you mentioned, looking down all the time. The reality though is that’s always been the case. Every new technology, it’s changed the way we communicate and not just in our interpersonal, but in our politics itself.

My favorite illustration of this, is that the average length of a speech by a politician essentially went with the advent of the radio from about an hour in length, to under 10 minutes in length. And back then people were horrified by that. Well now you get television to, well its 140 characters. So we’ve always seen this. But the point is people back with the radio would have said the same thing.

Question #2:   

So speaking on behalf of my generation’s age group, I don’t think any of us want war. We’ve had enough history of it. I want humans to walk on other planets, and I would love to see a dinosaur that would be really cool. As much as I want a Bugatti Chiron, I understand that buying a $1.5 million vehicle probably disenfranchises a lot of other individuals to get to that point. But what can we do, keeping in mind the inherent human corruption to remove some of the power that leaders that are driven by power and profit, to get them out of control. That are causing a lot of these conflicts using this technology that’s pretty much connecting everything.

Peter Singer:          

So this question, the story that you lay out, this is not a 2017 question; it could be a 2000 BC question. You know we’ve always had this back and forth between the search for peace and the history of humans at battle with each other. And it’s linked to the story of technology is, just as law. My take is technology itself doesn’t have the morality, it’s the way the humans behind it use it. So the very first technology, someone picked up a rock and they either used it to build something like a fireplace or a tool or they bashed someone in the head in it.

And that’s the same story moving forward when we think about to the last question, the Internet. It’s been the most powerful force for good in certainly our lifetimes in terms of spreading knowledge and business efficiency in whatever, and by the way it’s been a portal for hate. So, we’ve seen this kind of story again and again. I think what you then raise is really an issue of how do we go after some of the underlying causes? And when are the causes, the wrong people are empowered, or when are the causes some kind of underlined scarcity. Again is it then an ideology?

I think what should worry us right now is the just sheer amount of flux that’s going on in not just American politics, but global politics at large. And again to go back to that this seemingly was a talk about the future, but we keep referencing history. What are the historic parallels for where we are today? And people keep making these parallels and I think there are some apt ones to those periods of 1920s and ’30s in terms of global ideological change, economic change, technology shift, old rules falling by the wayside, the emergence of populism, you name it. And those are some scary parallels and so then we have to ask ourselves, “Okay, what are the firebreaks? What are the structures?”

And again, it might be political structures, it might be moral structures that we can put in place to avoid those kind of bad outcomes that we’ve seen in the past. That’s similarly the project that August and I did, it’s a novel, it’s not–we hope – an act of prediction. Who wants a World War to happen? We hope in many ways it’s kind of an act of prevention, and that by identifying some of the trend lines, identifying some of the mistakes that people make, that it allows you to then take measures to avoid it.

Question #3:    

I would like to know your thoughts. We’re about 9 months after the election, and I was just listening to VPR today and they were still discussing the Russian influence on the election, which is huge. At this time last year, I just thought it was sore losers, or this or that or the other thing. What kind of strategic, purely strategic aside from politics, does Russia have manipulating elections? Other than making us look stupid and incompetent? What are some of the things that they can do to better their position?

Peter Singer:        

Sure. It’s important first, again it kind of connects to your question about fake news to the last question. One of the biggest challenges is that we no longer all agree on common facts, let alone kind of common rules of the game. I have to preface my answer to establish the common facts, and even then, some people in the room won’t believe them.  But frankly, these are the facts of the matter: So the facts of the matter are that the Russian, as I mentioned, campaign hit both Democrat and Republican targets, Democrat National Committee, Republican National Committee, both Republican and Democrat prominent individuals. You recall John Podesta but also Colin Powell, both got breached.

Both clear political organizations, like I mentioned; to governmental organizations, like depending on joint staff email system; to organizations outside the space, like a series of American universities and think tanks. It started well before the election; it’s been documented as continuing after the election. In fact one of the attacks used the hook of downloading election results to try and trick people to doing it. It didn’t just target America; it targeted everything from Norwegian Nuclear Research Institute, to Danish Defense Ministry, to the World Anti-doping Agency after Russian athletes were caught doping, to elections everywhere from France to Germany, you name it.

Okay, so bigger than just that, we can’t look at it through the, “Ah, but how do we know it was Russia?” Well, at least the groups that have concluded it was Russia include all American Intelligence Agencies, the FBI, the Intelligence Agencies of all our leading allies; UK, France, Australia, Estonia, Czech. Why would they care about this? To maybe more important, five different cybersecurity companies. That’s really interesting because private companies and cybersecurity are incentivized to disagree with each other, they like to debunk each other’s work. So the fact that five of them all concluded the same thing is a really big deal.

We have to establish this, because we’ve had a back and forth in our politics. First when it happened in the summer time, we had prominent individuals say, “Well there was no hack, this is all made up.” To then, “Well it was a 400-pound hacker.” To, “Oh no, it was some kid, it was a teenager in their basement.” To finally on January 11th, we had finally the former President Obama, and the current President Trump both say Russia did it. He’s since gone back and said, “Well actually it may not have been them.”

The point is, we can’t even get to your question about what do we do about it, until we accept the common facts of the matter. The problem then of this allowing a clear national security issue, not just a democracy issue, but this affects cyber deterrence. Moving forward is that we haven’t been able to have an effective conversation as long as we cling to this kind of misinformation about what’s playing out. What can we do about it? There’s a wide variety of things we can talk longer on, but they involve both sort of what you asked about building up resilience structures, but also deterrence involves retaliation.

In effect, right now the cyberattacks are viewed by the attacker as incredibly low cost to generate, low cost in terms of the consequence for you and high gain because a nation with the economy equivalent of Spain, the 13th largest economy, and falling has basically caused massive disarray and disruption among its enemies, as in our allies. We’ve got to change that dynamic.


Question #4:  

My question is, as vulnerabilities are growing so rapidly, what are your thoughts on non-state organized groups of hackers like Anonymous on the effects they’ll continue to have as these vulnerabilities grow on? Not just national security, but it could be economy or society in general. Well, it might be amusing to see that they hacked into ISIS’ social media accounts and put links to pornography or things like that. That opens a door for retaliations and further terrorist attacks to the cause of taking more lives.

Peter Singer:   

There’s a long history of non-state actors being influential and also allowing new types of non-state actors. Anonymous, which you mentioned, is like a perfect illustration of that. Where it’s a hacktivist group, it’s a new form of activism. It’s a network and despite it being named Anonymous, it’s actually literally out in the open, in terms of a target is collectively agreed upon, the dates of when they’re going after, and what we’re all going to do, and kind of people pitch in.

It has an ethic contrary this goes back to the way we think about youth today, millennials, is that you don’t try and take personal credit for it. It also illustrates the kind of back and forth of how we view the ethics and the morality of the group. So, Anonymous has simultaneously been thanked and lauded by, I was in an event where an assistant secretary of state mentioned their activities against ISIS as “great stuff.”

Simultaneously, it’s had the Department of Justice go after it. The origin of the group, the very first mention of Anonymous, is actually when it went after child sex crimes ring. It was applauded in the media and then later on you get this back and forth, and I think again that notion, it’s like any other history of activism. It kind of depends on how you think of the cause. So, we’re in New England, the home of civil disobedience. And Thoreau, was he a great figure, or was he a guy who wouldn’t pay his taxes? Depends on the way you looked at him. He was an anti-war protestor who wouldn’t pay his taxes.

Moving forward, we’ll continue to see more and more of these groups just by the sheer nature of the space, and, as I mentioned in the past question, able to do more and more actions with real consequences as opposed to just nuisance type or joke type things or symbolic. They’ll be able to do more consequential activities, again, for better or for worse. There is a reality in this space that because of the sheer scale of organization, the big dogs still bite the most.

So, a group like Anonymous, a clear important player but it doesn’t have the heft that a Chinese 3rd department or a National Security Agency, because they don’t have the scale, resources, people, budget, the type of cyber weaponry. Non-state actors matter more than they’ve ever before but states aren’t going away.


Question #5:

I studied Soviet active measures in Interwar Britain, that influence operations and such. Inevitably, of course, I do see there’s lots history. Maybe it doesn’t necessarily repeat, but it rhymes. And there is definitely some of that going on. Russians have been trying to disrupt us for some time, obviously. My question, really I was wondering if you would just talk a little bit about the civil liberties aspect to this new kind of warfare, and then maybe you’ve seen how that works also with government power?

Peter Singer:             

It’s a great question, and it’s a tough one to end on, because it’s literally causes a library’s worth of things. I think the way to frame it is, there are definite historic echoes, but there are new challenges in everything from the legal authorities, to the you use government as is sort of the adjudicator here, but what’s different now is that we see private companies in that role of adjudicating free speech rights in a way they haven’t previously. You could see this. The challenge that technology companies, the Facebooks, the Twitters, etc. are going through where originally they’re engineers in background, they weren’t free speech advocates, they wanted to create great new product.

And their attitude towards it was, my clients, my customers. It’s a platform they’ll use it. We don’t want to be in terms of regulating our customers. We’re in a space of people with interest in politics that quickly becomes untenable. It becomes, first, there’s clear crimes that everyone agrees, they don’t want to have happen on their systems, things like child sex crimes. And so very soon, social network companies say, “Yeah, you can do anything, except this.”

Then, they start to run into the politics of where their customers live. For example, it is our right as Americans to be utterly stupid, ahistoric and evil, and say the Holocaust didn’t happen, even though it did. Whereas in France, to say the same thing, would be to commit a crime. And so, how does a company navigate that? Then we get the challenges more recently with acts of violence, and related to a group like an ISIS. What happens when there is a violence shown on your social network?

The companies go from and say, “Well, I’m not in charge of regulating that” to “Okay, yeah, I don’t want terrorists to use my network.” Then they say, “Okay, no acts of violence on our network.” But then, they get interesting things like, well, that means they’re automatically censoring imagery from World War II. They’re like, “No, no, no, that’s history, we can’t censor history.” Are then, the people who are engaging in counter-extremism saying, “No, no, no, we need you to show that violence that ISIS is doing, so we can argue against them and show how they’re a violent organization.” Again, circle back–it’s a group of engineers. It’s a technology company that’s been asked to adjudicate this to circle back to your fake news.

They go from saying, “It’s not our role to police fake news,” to the 2016 election. They go, “I don’t like the idea that our customers are being taken advantage of in this way by a bunch of everything from kind of post-Soviet echoes of influence operations, to a bunch of teenagers who are profiting off their gullibility.” They’re now moving to both regulated, but also weirdly enough and it’s a great way to end, develop new technology to try and solve our political questions.

If you go from Facebook to Twitter and the like and you ask them, how are you going to deal with these problems of for example hate speech and violence, and all the bad things on your network? Their answer: artificial intelligence. Of course, that will open up a whole new set of wonderful political questions.

The great thing for all of us in this space is, no matter the technology, we’re always going to be in business. May we gather here 200 years from now. Thank you.